Let’s start by talking about the best pitching conditions. There are three factors that I watch to tell me if pitching is the correct technique to make you successful on the water. First, take into consideration the time of year in which you are fishing. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Pre-spawn, Spawn, or Post-spawn all have their own set of circumstances that can make or break a flipping day. My two favorite seasons to flip are spring and fall. With fish feeding to get ready to spawn during the pre-spawn in the early spring flipping can really be beneficial to anglers. Fish often use lay downs as cover in the spring because the shallow water warms faster. The structure also acts as an ambush point for bass. Flipping in the fall can be unbelievable. This is true for a couple reasons. First, most anglers choose to fish aggressively for active fish in the fall. Leaving most of the right kind of cover to the pitchers. The other reason is that when bass are feeding in the fall they tend to travel a lot. Lay downs and other types of cover are used as temporary homes until they regain their energy to go gorge themselves once again. Summer can be promising for guys who like to flip as well. However, typically you will need to be pitching areas that are creating shade and cooler water temperatures. A couple examples of these are boat docks, lily pads, mat weeds, and bushes. The winter months are very difficult to use pitching as a technique. The biggest reason why is that most bass suspend during the winter months. If you are going to be successful this time of year pitching you have to slow down and present the lure at a much slower pace.
Now we should talk about the spawn cycle. The spawn is not a on or off situation that most anglers think. Actually, it is the exact opposite because not all the bass in a body of water spawn during the same time. Yes there will be a peek time where it seems like every fish on the lake is spawning, but that is simply not the case. In fact, the spawn usually occurs over the period of one and a half months. Most of the time in Pennsylvania the pre-spawn will kick in during early April. I have seen the Spawn kick off as early as the last week of April and last through mid June. Then the post spawn tends to last approximately one month. The pre-spawn can be a great time for catching a great number of fish because fish are feeding hard. The size of the bass will very greatly because males will be making beds (which are typically smaller) and the females will be moving shallow as well. During the spawn you will have the best opportunity to catch a fish of a lifetime pitching. Those big females will be in shallow, but very inactive. Chances are that you will catch the male that is guarding the bed and not the female, but you will get you share of females to bite. Post-spawn pitching will probably produce the best numbers of fish, but they will be the smallest fish. Usually, there will be a great deal of males protecting beds and in shallow, and male fish tend to feed strong during the post spawn. I recommend using another technique if you are after big fish during this time.
The second factor that will let me know if the conditions are right to flip would be the weather. Everyday that I am on the water I am going to take some time to flip, but there are certain weather conditions that are better than others. Time of year will greatly affect things no matter what the weather is like. However, sunny, warm, and relatively calm winds produce the best results for me. Being sunny and warm fish tend to find shady cool areas to live. They will back up under lay downs, hide under lily pads, get in stumps, bushes, and under docks. Calm winds are a plus because when it is windy it can be very difficult to be accurate and keep your boat positioned correctly. Rainy conditions can be very good for pitching as well. If it is raining or has rained recently, find a tributary and start fishing the cover on the bank. Bass are opportunist and when it rains it washes worms and other bugs into the water. One of my favorite situations is when I am going to a lake that has received a lot of water and has flooded a couple of feet. Even if the water has only came up one foot the pitching and shallow cover bite will be at full swing.
The third condition that will tell us if we should flip or not to flip is the water color and flow rate. As I have stated previously I love fishing a lake that has received a bunch of rain and raised the lake level. However, if the color of the water is what we call “chocolate milk” or is muddy pitching can be very difficult. These conditions can also lead to a high flow rate of water, which will only give you a slight amount of time in the strike zone. Water that is stained or slight stained is probably my favorite. In my opinion these conditions are when you can see you lure up to 2 feet below the water surface. Under these conditions you can be relaxed because the fish probably will not be able to see the boat, yet you will be making very precise cast to where the fish is sitting allowing them ample time to see, smell and eat the lure. Clear water usually means that pitching will work, but you will have to worry about boat position, spooking the fish, making exact casts, and using fluorocarbon and lighter fishing line. I will talk more about fishing line later in the article.
If you hear someone say that they were catching bass pitching and think you are going to just go out and catch a bunch of fish tight on cover you might find that it isn’t as easy as you though. Mainly because you can pitch a variety of structure such as bushes, boat docks, lay downs, stumps, metal structure, lily pads, mat weeds, or debris build up. Finding which type of cover the bass are using is the key to getting bites. The first thing I will tell you is that you have to pay attention to the details. Getting one bite and paying attention to the exact location of the fish will allow you to be more successful on that day. For example, I was fishing at Pymatuning Lake last year with Jon Parker and we spent all morning throwing spinnerbaits and trying to get a pitching bite. It took us until the afternoon to realize that the fish were holding on the deepest Y in the lay downs. The fish were holding in 3 feet of water and the fish felt more comfortable in the Y or the main tree trunk. We had only caught 5 fishing until 2 pm in the afternoon and from 2 to 6 pm we boat 25 fish. Most of the fish we caught were quality fish as well. Pay attention to if the fish are coming off the tree truck, small branches, at the root base, if the tree is old, or if it has leave or buds on the branches.
Although, we are not allowed, in Pennsylvania, to fish docks by pitching soft plastics or jigs can be very productive fishing areas for many species. Dock fishing is just like fishing lay downs. Paying attention to the depth of the dock, type of construction materials, and if there is weed growth under the dock will mean the difference in getting more strikes. Some fishermen prefer to fish wooden docks over metal docks. Personally, I have had equal success fishing both types of docks. I tend to have more success fishing docks when it is sunny and in the middle of the day. That is not to say I don’t catch fish in docks during rainy or overcast conditions. Usually, the fish in overcast conditions will position themselves towards the outside of the docks, and sunny conditions they will be up under the dock in the shade.
In my opinion the most difficult type of structure to pitch are bushes. Bushes amplify the challenge of getting your lure into position and getting the fish out of the bush once you hook-up. There are a couple of things you can do to make fishing bushes easier. As you approach the bush examine it to find the part of the bush that is has less branches and resistance to get the lure in. When pitching soft plastics make sure that you peg your weight. Making sure that your weight can’t slide up and down the line is essential. A slightly heavier weight jig or bullet weight will make a difference as well. Some pro anglers will pitch and flip no less than a ¾ oz. weight. As far as getting fish out of the bushes you need to remember two things. First, you need to pay attention to the type of line you are using. Braided line is my number one line for flipping bushes. Usually, I try not to use braided line when I can, but if need be I will go to it to help my landing ratio. Second, goes back to flipping into the easiest entry. If it goes in easy it will come out easy.
Pitching lily pads and mat weeds are very similar. Fish are in these in areas for a couple of reasons. First, there is more oxygen in these areas. Because of the oxygen fish will stay in these areas the majority of the day until they want to feed. Baitfish spend a lot of time is these areas for the plankton creating food for predatory fish as well. The other reason that bass and other fish stay in the lily pads or mat weeds is that the water temperature tends to be lower than the rest of the lake. This is a great summer pattern that can lead to some big bags at Presque Isle Bay and Lake Arthur. Pegging weights and using P-Line Spectrex IV Braided Line or heavy flourocarbon line will help make you more successful. Usually, I use 65# braided line and 20# flourocarbon. When I flip mat weeds and lily pads I always use heavy weights and heavy jigs. Most guys I talk to think heavy weights are ½ oz., but ½ oz is actually the lightest weight I use. Most of the time I am pitching 1 to 1 ½ oz jigs and mostly 1 oz weights with soft plastics.
There are many lures that you can use and can have success with. Like any other style of fishing you have to match the forage in the lake. Some of my favorite lures to pitch are jigs. Although the weight may very from ¼ oz to 1 ½ oz depending on the structure, I only use a couple of colors. My two main colors are black & blue and green pumpkin. Sometimes you will need to add some chartreuse, orange, red, or purple strands of skirting to help entice bites. The best jigs trailers that I have found are Berkley Chigger Chunk. These chunks that the know powerbait scent and great movement. If I am catching good-sized fish I will change my trailer to a 4″ Berkley Chigger Craw to add bulk to the bait. Using colored lure dye and markers you can customize your jigs without changing trailers and skirts.
There are many great soft plastic lures to use under different circumstances. I have already mentioned one of my favorite lures, the Berkley Chigger Craw. Beaver baits have become my favorite all around bait for pitching. They come in multiple sizes and in many colors. If I were restricted to one to use, I would pick a small beaver lure in a green pumpkin color. This lure will work in every type of cover, in most conditions, and at most bodies of water. Some other lures that I recommend include: ribbon tail worms, tubes, stick worms (Texas rigged or wacky rigged), creature baits, and lizards. All soft plastics have there time and place and it is our job as fishermen to determine which lures work best for the conditions which we are fishing.
Next time your favorite body of water, try pitching some heavy cover. Remember to pay attention to the details and take into consideration the time of year and the spawn cycle if it pertains. Also, keep in mind that there is no place that you should try to pitch a lure into. Fish only need inches of water to survive and heavy cover makes them feel save in that shallow water.